US, China upbeat on trade talks amid South China Sea tensions

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US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are now in Beijing, two days ahead of high-level talks with their Chinese counterparts. A round of talks at the end of January ended with some progress reported - but no deal and USA declarations that much more work was needed. Last week, Trump said that he would not meet Xi before the deadline, but further planning for a summit had not been reported.

As a result, some aides privately acknowledge the most likely scenario is for the March 1 deadline to be extended, and for tariffs on some $200 billion in Chinese imports not to be raised to 25 percent as Trump has threatened.

US and Chinese officials expressed hopes that a new round of talks would bring them closer to easing their seven-month trade war, but a US Navy mission through the disputed South China Sea cast a shadow over the negotiations in Beijing, Reuters reports.

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The Trump administration said the USA president still wants to meet China's Xi Jinping in an effort to end the trade war, a sign of optimism as negotiators from the world's two biggest economies start their latest round of talks this week. And top White House economist Larry Kudlow said Thursday that while Trump was "optimistic" about prospects for a deal, there remained a "sizable distance" separating the two sides. However, amid pressure from the business community for the two sides to resolve the dispute, CNBC cited a senior administration official saying the March 1 deadline could be pushed back. China will likely respond by raising tariffs on $60 billion worth of United States goods that it announced past year in retaliation.

The talks kicked off in Beijing with discussions among deputy-level officials on Monday before minister-level meetings later in the week.

USA negotiators will likely continue to urge China to make structural reforms and end what the US claims to be unfair trade practices. Washington is demanding far-reaching changes from China to address unfair practices it says are deeply unfair, including theft of American intellectual property and the massive Chinese trade surplus.